A few Christmas memories center on presents.
The one when my father gave me a ceramic dog in a house. When you whistled, the dog came out. But I couldn’t whistle.
The one when I recognized my mother’s handwriting on a note from Santa to my younger sister, and got in a world of trouble for telling her.
There were many other times, of course, when the crushing disappointment of childish expectations made Christmas presents a bittersweet memory.
Then there was the Christmas when my step-father, with whom I could never form a close relationship, convinced Santa to give me a typewriter, which I knew we couldn’t afford, because he knew how much I wanted to be a writer. I think I may have received my first whiff of Christmas Presence that year.
A highlight of my early teens was a year when I was old enough to know how much we didn’t have. My mother wanted us to understand that there were others with even less, and she wanted to teach us the joy of giving. We put together two boxes of clothing and toys we no longer needed and left them on the doorstep of a family who lived in a ramshackle house a mile or so away.
A few weeks later, I saw a girl from that family wearing one of the favorite matching dresses my mother had made for my sister and me years before. I hoped the girl didn’t know where it had come from. I was afraid it would embarrass her. I thought at the time that the feeling I got knowing we had added to that’s family’s joy was the true Christmas Presence.
As the years went by, I found more incidents of heart-warming experiences that I thought better examples of the Christmas Presence: caroling by candlelight, Christmas Eve midnight services, Christmas Cantatas. Music and fellowship, the spirit of Christ flowing over and around us; the celebration of the birth of our Savior.
But what I finally discovered was that for me the Christmas Presence wasn’t limited to a few short weeks in December and January. We celebrate the time of birth, and it is special, but the Presence Christ brought to earth that day is with us all year long. It illuminates our hearts and gives us the desire to share his love and give “presents” to everyone, not just at Christmas time, but all the time.